My Analysis with James Hillman
“CALLED OR NOT CALLED, THE GODS ARE ALWAYS PRESENT” –Motto over Jung’s front door.
In late April 1975 I flew from London with my then girlfriend, Kathy, to New York and then on to California to attend my sculptor mother’s 40 year retrospective show at the Janus Gallery in Los Angeles. I was very proud of her. The show included twenty-six sculptures, three found objects, and some of her jewelry. The catalogue included a large photograph of the Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona Arizona which she had designed and built in memory of her parents. “The essential nature of her subjects is always conveyed with great strength and a touch of idealization which gives them a strong sense of timelessness,” the catalogue stated “Within the world of Marguerite Staude a search for the spiritual side of the universe is expressed in all forms of her creativity.” After a few days visiting friends in Los Angeles we drove up to Big Sur and stayed there for a week in my mother’s house at Anderson Canyon. From Big Sur I wrote my mother how much I was enjoying the riches of her Catholic library where I found much spiritual and intellectual nourishment. Along with the writings of Peguy, who she so admired, she had assembled most of the works of the mystic Teilhard de Chardin. At that time she had been talking about possibly supporting me in establishing a transdisciplinary research institute in big Sur in the spirit of Teilhard de Chardin. “It is only a dream now,” I wrote, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if you wereto decide to support me in the establishment of a real scholarly foundation here on our coastal land here in Big Sur, something that might be what the Spiritual Life Institute in at the Chapel you built Sedona failed to be, but might have been under proper direction.I stayed up late last night re-reading The Divine Milieu. Though I am devoting my mornings to writing the introduction to the volume of conference papers which I will call ‘The Dialectics of Consciousness in Self and Society,’ my afternoon and evening free time is taken up with working on a comparison between Jung and Teilhard which has fired my imagination. It is a sign to me how much I have changed in the last year that whereas last year when I tried to read Teilhard I could not relate to him and his ideas because of my own need to push myself free of you, now I find that I can easily acknowledge my deep personal affinity with his ideas. “I am also coming to know another side of you through your library. You are a mystic, in your own way, aren’t you? The Church is not made for mystics….The Church we belong to is an invisible church to which the Roman Catholic Church with its antiquated and authoritarian institutional structure is a poor shadow. “Of course, I do not feel any desire to change the Church any more. My church is the world—my workbench is my altar, as the worker priests in France say— and I agree with Teilhard that we worship God simply by uniting our every thought word and deed to Christ, thereby participating actively in the divine milieu in which we live and have our being….It is this Biblical vision, this awareness that we live in that special sacred time between Pentecost and the Parousia that gives meaning to our lives here and now. What I admire about Teilhard is not only his courage, his faith and his hope but his patience and humility. He certainly was a modern saint. Like Jung he kept himself open to the many dimensions of human experience and sought to draw every aspect of life into the illuminating light of Christ.” I then quoted the words my mother had inscribed in the copy of The Divine Milieu she gave me for my birthday January 16, 1961: “Diviniser les vielle formes—voila notre but! [spiritualize the old forms—that’s our goal!] An open sesame to your oncoming year. May it blossom and bear the good fruit!”“Growth takes time and it took almost fifteen years for the seed you planted then to germinate and take root. The blossoms are now appearing; the good fruit is at hand. Thank you. Deo gratias!”
After a few weeks we returned to Europe. Kathy had an operation on her ankle in Munich and then recuperated in Strobl on Wolfgangsee near Salzburg, “Sound of Music” country. In the mornings I worked on my book and in the afternoons went swimming in the lake (Wolfgangsee).After Kathy recovered, we went to Graz in Western Austria, and down into Northern Yugoslavia to the delightful coastal town of Pirano. On our way back to California we stopped at Ascona to visit James Hillman, who I had gotten to know at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, and was living at Casa Eranos at Moscia, a village on the shores of Lago Magiore at that time. While I had an interview with him, Kathy plunged—naked– in the lake below appearing like a mermaid and waving to us to our delight. I had a good interview with Hillman and at his suggestion that I take advantage of an apartment vacancy at the place, which was a piece of paradise, I decided on the spot to postpone our planned return to California and to settle right there at Eranos, near Ascona, which I adored, and still do. Soon we were installed at Eranos ourselves. The whole thing was like a dream. Casa Eranos was built by a World War One widow, Frau Olga Kaptyn, who inherited a large piece of land near Ascona on the shores of Lake Maggiore from her father. One day, while reading a magazine calledYoga International, Olga got the bright idea of convening an internationalconference on comparative religions on her property. She invited the editorial board and other scholars to contributed papers for this conference and she had a hall built, Casa Eranos, for the conference, which was to become an annual affair. The name was contributed by Professor Rudolf Otto who explained to her that Eranos in ancient Greek means a shared feast. As it was conceived the Eranos Conference was to bea shared feast in which the contributors provided their papers and Frau Olga contributed food and lodging for the speakers. In August at the time of the conference all the buildings on the property were always occupied, but for the remainder of the year after the excitement of the annual Earnos conferences they were vacant. That was why I was able to rent Casa Shanti when I visited Hillman there in September. It was a one bedroom cottage with a large balcony extending out over the lake. From there I could see across the lake to Stresa and Italy. Wild swans swam up when I threw bread off the balcony to feed them. I was very much in love with Cathy at that time. We spent the next nine months there while I pursued my analysis with Hillman, and attended occasional classes at the Jung Institute in Zurich commuting over the alps. Bill McGuire, Director of the Princeton University Press came to Eranos to visit James and stayed for a while when he was working on his book on Bollingen. He knew a lot about Jung and his associates and was of great help to me. We flew home for Christmas in December 1975 and then returned to Ascona in early January 1976. I had been away from Eranos since November 1975. It took me a while to get readjusted. In the New Year I began to apply for teaching jobs in Religious Studies at universities in the United States, and eventually got a job in religious studies at Iowa State University. While I was in New York for interviews, I visited my former teacher and Doktorvater (dissertation director) Carl Schorske, who had moved from Berkeley to Princeton to teach Modern European Intellectual History. I thought I had changed a lot but he saidas long as he has known me I have always been a Platonist, and my present work on Jung still fits that mould. When I lectured at the International Humanistic Psychology conference in Cuernevaca, Mexico, Eleanor Criswell said that she felt I was essentially still the same John, saying the same things I had been teaching when she knew me at Sonoma State College, so I guess I haven’t changed that much after all!In Ascona I continued my analysis with James Hillman and worked on my Jung book. In the spring, around Eastertime, Kathy and I drove South to Italy, visiting Milan, Bologna, and Florence. We stayed at the charming old Villa Carlotta, a beautifulPensioneon the Arno in Florence. I toyed with the idea of giving up my analysis in Ascona and moving to Florence, to study Psychosynthesis with Robert o Assagioli and Piero Ferrucci, but Hillman encouraged me to stick it out with my analysis with him and to continue working on my Jung biography in Ascona. Analysis with James Hillman was something unique. Fascinating, but really more intellectual than emotional. As directed by him, I wrote up my dreams and made my own analysis of them each week, and then gave them–or sent them–to him before our sessions. I felt as though I was getting clinical supervision for working with myself as my patient! The focus of my analysis with Hillman was on “clarifying my vocation and my identity”. At that time, I tended to compare myself unfavourably with my friends who had regular jobs, and were publishing their books. “I have nothing. I’m nobody compared to my friends, who have power and position, and know what they’re about,” I said to myself and to my therapist. I was afraid that Kathy was going to leave me, because I was getting old, and I was depressed. On May 8, 1976 I wrote Hillman: “I feel I am a mess—as bad off as I ever was. You didn’t make me any worse, but I haven’t gotten any better with you either.”And then I developed an imaginary dialogue with Hillman which I want to reproduce here:
Jim: “Better? Better than what? There is no such thing as ‘better’ or ‘worse’ in my book; you simply are your own process. You may accept it or you may fight it, but there is no ‘better’ or any hope of ever ‘getting better.’ Forget it. You are not ‘ill’; you’re simply human.That means that like other humans you must suffer and go through occasional breakdowns, because that is the psyche’s way. That is what I call “soul-making”—you have suffered so much this year because you have relentlessly continued to resist this process and to insist that at some level you (ego) are in charge and responsible for your life. But, John, let’s be honest here. The truth is thatYou Are NOT Responsible.You are simply a plaything of the gods. [“They kill us for their sport,” as the poet said]. Yet in your heroic fantasy YOU still insist that YOU are in charge and that YOU are choosing your own life.”
John: “Exactly and I’ve had enough of this madness now. I am going back home to California soon where the ethic of self-responsibility still prevails, and where I hope to get a job and to get my life back together again before long.”I felt so tickled at getting that letter about my proposed Psycho- Energy Conference from Marjorie. I felt I am really somebody after all, not a nobody as I am around here at Eranos, where I don’t count because I am not 60or 70 years old or more….Being excluded hurts.”
Jim: “You don’t belong here and you know it—not now anyway—You have your own generation to relate to now. There’s time enough later on for you at a place like this. We’re the keepers of the fire of a sacred tradition—But for you—the fire is still alive in your hands. It’s up to you to shape it and express it according to your own lights, to ‘speak the eternal truth’ as Ezekiel puts it. Then, in time, you may be invited here to join us old guys.”
I was determined to go home now. I had stayed an extra year in Europe living in a vacuum where I could do as I pleased and write and think whatever I wanted. I had kept working over some very basic personal questions about my own vocation and my philosophy of life. Whereas I thought I wanted to work as a psycho-therapist, in my work with my dreams and fantasies with Hillman I discovered that I still had much work to do with myself before I would be ready to guide others. And I realized that what I cared about most was not really people or patients but BOOKS and the history of thought! Despite all my studies of psychology and sociology, I was still essentially an intellectual and cultural historian at heart!“There’s nothing wrong with that,” Hillman said encouragingly. You have a noble vocation, and you can be proud of it. There is nothing to be ashamed of about being a historian.” I felt doubtful. I was afraid I would be suspect among historians because of the many meta-historical things I’d done. I had broken out of the Ivory Tower and had actually attempted to enter into the social and cultural world of the younger generation in the late 1960s and the early 1970s.
Jim: “Yes but in many ways you are still in the Ivory Tower, John. You have so little idea of the lives and concerns of the common man.” He was right and I knew it, but I tried to defend my position with whatever arguments I could muster.
Jim: “You still imagine that complaining helps as if by stating your woes a good fairy will touch you with her magic wand and make everything all right. But that doesn’t happen.
John: You’re right, Jim. It is up to me.
Jim: “No it’s not. That’s false ego pride speaking. It’s not up to you; it’s up to the gods.”
John: “But then wherein is my responsibility for my life?”
Jim: “Your responsibility lies in being fully responsible and responsive to the gods and to their demands upon you as you experience them in your dreams and in your fantasies.”
John: “Suppose what you said were true? Then what? That seems to justify anything and everything!”
Jim: “What are you afraid of? You object because if you accepted this tragic view of life then you’d have no club to beat yourself over the head with. Neurotic egos love the ethics of self-responsibility because it inflates them and makes them feel so overly self-important. Look at Oedipus and Orestes!
John: “Yes, I see what you mean.”
Jim: “Strive to fulfill your destiny to the best of your own lights. Humbly obey the will of the gods. Accept your fate and surrender to the will of the gods. That’s the classical Greek view of life which I have tried hard to teach you.”
John: “Well, ultimately, in the end no one but ME is responsible for my life. To say anything else is a cop out, gods or not. All week long I’ve felt restless. I should have gone back to California long ago to look for a job. Now I’m going to get back to the states all right, but I’ll be too late and all the good jobs will already be gone!”
Jim: “Another torture game. You certainly seem to enjoy beating yourself over the head, don’t you? Whatever you choose to do you seem to have a way of punishing yourself for not having done something else. Don’t you see that that is a losing game? The only payofffor playing such games is PAIN and Avoidance of Responsibility. Instead of making the most out of what you are doing, you fill your mind with regrets about the past and anticipations of the future.You say you once studied with Fritz Perls. I agree with him. You make your life by your daily choices and activities. Surely he stressed to you the importance of living consciously and continually in the Here and Now because there is only the present moment. Everything else is illusory fantasy.”
John: Exactly That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all year.—that I need to get my life together in the Here and Now and not worry about gods and archetypes, and such.”
Jim: Who is stopping you? Surely, not me!”
John: “My own feelings of weakness and emptiness and helplessness are stopping me. There is something wrong with me—like you say in your chapter on pathologizing in your ReVisioning Psychology book . I’m a chronic pathologizer.”
Jim: “And look how PROUD you are of it, too.”
John:”Well, at least I’m distinguished in some way!”
Jim: “Must you be distinguished? Why? Tell me.”
John: I want to be. I feel I am unique. I want to produce great works of art, philosophy, and literature, and to have something important to show for myself before I die.”
Jim: “To please your mama! That’s it! We never finish with Oedipus, do we? You’re still hooked on that old Oedipal thing. Can you see it?”
John: “Yes this analysis game can go on for years, but it doesn’t change anything; I’m still stuck being my phoney self, despite all the hours of analysis and insight.”
Jim: “What do you expect? It’s up to you to make the changes. All I can do is reflect back to you what I see you doing, and what your dreams seem to be saying.
John : “And now it’s up to me to go home and make some sense of my life.”
Finally, I decided that wonderful as it was living in paradise, I should return to the USA and get a teaching job. Hillman convinced me that my dreams indicated that I was not cut out to be a Jungian analyst.